Shoppers to face 'spaces on shelves' as beef plants run short

Growing fears of business being lost to 'non-Irish suppliers'

It comes after factories temporarily laid off hundreds of staff in recent days, as unofficial beef protests continued. Photo: Getty Images
It comes after factories temporarily laid off hundreds of staff in recent days, as unofficial beef protests continued. Photo: Getty Images

Margaret Donnelly and Ralph Riegel

The country's largest beef processor has warned it had exhausted all its stocks of fresh meat this week at two of its plants.

Continued disruption caused by ongoing unofficial farmer protests, it said, could lead to "spaces on supermarket shelves" in Ireland and abroad.

The Larry Goodman-owned Anglo Beef Processors (ABP) said in a High Court affidavit that it had exhausted all its fresh stocks at two of its plants in Cahir and Waterford.

This, in turn, ABP said would "promptly lead to the displacement of ABP products" from other suppliers and possibly other countries. It said if it cannot meet its supply contracts it is "inevitable that its customers will turn to other (presumable non-Irish) suppliers".

It comes after factories temporarily laid off hundreds of staff in recent days, as unofficial beef protests continued.

This week a number of meat processors went to the High Court and secured injunctions restraining protesters from blockading factories and from intimidating staff and suppliers.

However, farmers have remained at the gates of some factories this week, despite the legal action being taken by factories.

IFA president Joe Healy said Agriculture Minister Michael Creed should stop telling the farm organisations what to do and instead instruct the meat factories to come forward with proposals to bring full transparency to the sector.

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"We spent the morning in the High Court and then we listened to Minister Creed explaining that he had contacted all the farm organisations, but not Meat Industry Ireland," he said. "The minister has to call in the meat factories and insist that they come forward with realistic measures around transparency and price that will improve the income of beef farmers.

"There is no point in having talks unless there are serious proposals on the table."

Protests continued yesterday at Ennis, Ballyjamesduff and at the ABP beef plant in Bandon.

There have, meanwhile, been High Court injunctions and the warning that enforcement action could be taken against anyone who ignores the court's instruction.

A Chinese delegation were to visit the west Cork plant yesterday, to inspect its processing lines for potential future meat export contracts to the vast China market.

However, it's understood that visit will now take place on Monday.

Securing access for beef exports to China took close to six years and just seven slaughter plants have been approved to date for the export of frozen beef.

An additional 12 factories applied for export approval last year and it is expected that these are subject to audits this visit.

Cattle slaughtering operations did not proceed at the Bandon plant and the resumption of slaughtering operations at the plant over the next three days is now in serious doubt due to the inability of cattle shipments to access the plant.

Six cattle trucks were parked within one kilometre of the Bandon plant but none were able to access the plant because of pickets.

Farmers have been protesting at factory gates since last Sunday, after rejecting a negotiated proposal hammered out by farming organisations and the meat factories.

Talks between the sides took place after two weeks of protests by farmers looking for an increased share of the retail margin for beef.

The number of farmers on the picket line had dwindled last week. But the move to seek High Court injunctions and the threat to jail farmers who ignore the court orders sparked widespread anger - and a surge back to some protests sites.

One livestock owner, who asked to be unnamed, said the situation cannot continue.

"I am close enough to retirement but there won't be a [beef farming] generation after me if we don't get fair prices," he said.

"If we have to go to jail to get justice, then so be it. But I hope we don't have to go down that road.

"All we are looking for is a fair price for a quality product.

"But make no mistake about it - we are prepared to go to jail if that is what it takes."

Farmers insisted they had put an offer to all meat plants to withdraw protests for the Chinese delegation visit but it was not taken up by some plant operators.

Exports

Livestock owners insisted they wanted to play their part in supporting the drive to achieve Chinese beef exports but such exports will be impossible if farmers cannot make a viable living.

A number of organisations have moved to support farmers in their demand for a compromise settlement with meat plants.

Meat Industry Ireland said the continued protests are extremely damaging for the entire domestic beef sector and that for the second time in just three weeks, hard won customers of Irish beef are being left without deliveries.

"These loyal and valued customers are again forced to seek alternative fresh beef supplies.

This damages the position of Irish beef in the marketplace," it said.

Read more: Meat processors say significant lay-offs inevitable as protests shut down 12 plants

Read more: Doubts over fresh beef talks as competition watchdog won’t budge on price

Irish Independent


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